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Family outings are great opportunities for bonding and learning, but they can quickly drain your finances. If you’re looking for a day out without ripping a hole in your wallet, take a few tips from Lydie Thomas, the author of Your Guide to Visit Paris for Free and Your Guide to Visit San Francisco for Free. There are plenty of fun, kid-friendly places to visit that don’t cost a cent.
- Visit a museum. Museums open your child’s mind and expand his interests. They can teach your child about history, nature, science, art and much more. Many also feature hands-on displays and activities designed to appeal to young guests. Thomas admits that some children can still be reluctant to visit, but she believes parents should persist. “My children may have told me almost every time that they were not interested in going to a particular exhibit, and ended up loving it,” she says. Many museums offer free entry daily while others have monthly free days.
- Look to the library. Modern libraries offer much more than books to borrow. Most also run regular storytimes for young children. A librarian can entertain children with new stories and lead them in songs and games. Make sure you also borrow a collection of new books to really instill a love of literature.
- Trek the trails. Exploring the great outdoors is a perfect way to spend a family day out. Children can burn off excess energy and be as loud as they want to be! If your child is small, look for treks that are short with mostly level ground. Remember to pack a water bottle and some healthy snacks for the journey; hiking can be hungry work!
- Go Geocaching. Geocaching is a fairly new trend that can be thought of as modern-day treasure hunting. To get started, visit the worldwide Geocaching website. You’ll find the longitude and latitude of boxes hidden in your area, and using the GPS on your smartphone or car device, you can find your treasure. Make sure you take along something small to leave in the box for the next Geocacher!
- Take a tour. While many guided tours cost money, free tours are becoming more common in cities around the world. Some websites also offer downloadable tours, which you can play on a smartphone or MP3 player as you’re walking around a city. Thomas says touring isn’t just for travelers either. She encourages families to seek out walks in their own cities and play tourist at home. Just remember to keep your child’s interests and fitness in mind, because “some tours are more kid-friendly than others.”
- Get on your bikes. You’ll see your hometown in a different light from the seat of a bicycle. Riding around your local neighborhood or to a location nearby is a great way to keep fit and bond as a family. Many towns have designated bike trails and lanes to ensure everyone stays safe. Look online for the best bike paths in your local area.
- See your relatives. Weekends are a great opportunity to reconnect with your extended family. Grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins will be happy to see your whole brood. These visits will foster connections that will last a lifetime.
- Play in the park. Local parks are great places for the whole family to enjoy active play. Utilize the playground equipment, take Frisbees or balls to have fun in open spaces, and pack a picnic lunch to enjoy under the trees. Parks also bring people from all walks of life together, and interacting with them can create natural teaching moments. “They may play with a child who is different from them, have a great time, and realize without being told that everybody is different but eventually we can all get along,” Thomas says.
- Hit the beach. The beach is a natural wonderland for families. There are miles of sand for building castles and ditches, and the cool water where your little one can splash around. Look for sheltered beaches with small waves that won’t scare young children. Time in the sun can also damage young skin, so remember to apply water-resistant lotion with a high SPF regularly and wear hats, shirts and sunglasses when you’re on the shore.
- Have fun at a festival. Neighborhoods regularly come together at local fairs. Keep an eye on community websites and newspapers to discover what’s coming in your area. Admission to these events is generally free, but you may want to pack some snacks to avoid overpriced and unhealthy fair food.
There are plenty of free attractions that the whole family will enjoy, but Thomas says free doesn’t always equal kid-friendly. She recommends that parents make a quick phone call or do some web research to see if your destination will suit your child’s age, interests and personality.